Could Tracking and Customized Search Results Influence an Election?

I’m beginning to wonder.

First, consider this TED talk bout how customization in search results has led to “filter bubbles” where we are only being directed to information we already tend to agree with.

Then consider how much influence Google has over search results, and how often they make algorithm changes that no one really understands. Could someone at Google alter the search results in even a slight way, to make some information more prominent? Would it be in their interest to do that? (Actually, yes, Google has a vested interest in politics across the board.) Could they do it without anyone knowing? Could they be doing it without even realizing their own bias?

Bottom line: If you want to truly be informed, you need to move past looking at just the things Google, and social networks, show you. We are already hard-wired with cognitive biases that make it all too easy to slip into the comfort of ideas we already hold, and believe they are more wide-spread than they truly are. (see also: confirmation bias, projection bias). With technology now feeding those biases even more, there’s a real danger that we are being manipulated by the information being shown to us, without anyone really meaning to do it.

So go out and talk to real people, from different backgrounds, areas, etc. Realize that our brains are biased, and the things we are being shown online are matching that bias, because tech companies know us so well, and make some adjustments in the information you are taking in.

Personally, I’m a bit lucky, because I do travel and interact with people taking our classes from all over the world. That helps, but I also have to be aware of the fact that the industry we all work in, also has it’s biases! So it’s good that many friends, and my wife, work in different ones. It’s good that I have a social media and blogging presence across different areas, as that too gives me connections to very different groups of people, and ideas. Some I agree with, others I do not, but I’m not under the illusion that no one holds those other ideas. I see it all the time. All of those things help keep me aware of the larger world of ideas that are out there.

Have you made a conscious effort to get out of your information bubble? How have you been able to do that?

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